Week 10: Study Abroad Even More Abroad

This blog is the latest-after-the-fact one I’ve posted this semester, but indeed here it is. Reading through this weekend, I think you may find why this blog has taken me longer to post—and I hope the words I have chosen do justice to the experiences I’m trying to relate. Happy reading!

Starting the week; for some reason, I wasn’t able to fall asleep until close to 3:00 a.m. Sunday night. This being the case, after class Monday afternoon (after a wonderful chat with my friend Megan studying in England), I decided the best course of action for the day was a nap…of four-and-a-half hours. I managed to sleep through not only conversation club, but dinner as well. When I finally did wake, Mamá Tica’s first question was if I was sick. Por dicha, no. And I did get to bed again at a reasonable hour.

Tuesday was an exercise in attention to detail. After class, I came home to rework a concept map for my Communication and Semiotics class. I had it in the wrong format, so I shifted the information to what I thought had been described as the way to change it and headed to La U. to turn it in. My professor teaches a 2:00 p.m. class…2:40 rolled around with no professor. So I came home. This gave me time to Skype with Andy about our upcoming Dominican Republic mission trip this June. Afterwards, I figured I’d better check into turning in my map again, so I headed back to the university. Fortunately, my professor was there. Unfortunately, I still had the map different than what he was wanting. After an hour in the library, thought I had it right, so I went to turn it in again…still wrong. Another half-hour of library time finally got it the way he had in mind. It was a relief to finally be done with the thing, but my professor’s compliments on the effort did help vindicate the work. The afternoon gone to this, after dinner, it was time for a homework project and bed.

On Wednesday, after class, lunch, and a thought-provoking SOL searching about the Autism Spectrum and intentional person-first-language, a group of us returned to the elderly center to dance. It was an awesome time getting to use our cumbia and bachata skills and also learn the bolero. I think I spent that afternoon taking another nap and packing…maybe watched a soccer game—honestly don’t remember.

Volcanoes Concepción and Maderas welcomed us to Nicaragua

Thursday morning dawned early with a 6:00 meeting to board our bus for the weekend excursion…to Nicaragua!! We had to drive about 6 hours to reach the northern border of Costa Rica—which gave us ample time to make up the lost sleep. I got to experience my first border crossing by land, and fortuitously everything went very smoothly. We then drove the rest of the way to Granada, with some rather thick traffic of both cars and decorated pilgrimage horse carts along the way (this was a particularly neat time for visiting Nicaragua because of how near Semana Santa and Easter are). We arrived in Granada around 7:00 p.m. and immediately went to the central park to enjoy a horse carriage tour of the city. The brightly-colored colonial architecture was striking even in the low-light (got me excited to see the city in the daylight). Afterwards, we got to see our hotels, and wow! We six guys stayed in the Backpackers’ Hotel—which has a massive central courtyard, a pool, and possibly the largest hammock I’ve ever seen. A visit to Calle Casada and talking to a few locals during the dinner hour was a great opportunity to experience more of the city and culture…but also a very real brush with the ever-present hardship we were in for a weekend of discovering further.

Our group in the larger cave
Plume-shrouded crater of Volcano Masaya
Tools of the pottery trade

Friday morning opened with a drive to my fourth active volcano here in Central America: Volcán Masaya. We started our visit in the visitor center with our guide (of 25 years of experience) learning some of the geography and history of the area. We drove further up the slope of the volcano, and headed underground. Yep, first stop was a little-visited lava flow tube once used as the home and ceremonial center for an indigenous priest. From there, we visited the larger cave, which has historically been used for burial rituals, treasure storage, and religious ceremonies in Pre-Colombian years. Also amazing were the sheer number of bats inhabiting the cave—wingbeats were definitely the dominate noise. Next was at the crater of the very active and gas-spewing volcano Masaya. We were only allowed to stay for a short time because of the toxic gasses, but it was long enough to appreciate the sheer massive amazingness of the location. From there, we traveled to the central souvenir market in Masaya. Located inside a ruined fort, the market was one of the most overwhelming places I’ve ever been. Bright colors and eager venders filled every inch of the tight labyrinth of walkways. There was nowhere near sufficient time to see it all, and barely time to make up my mind as to what I was going to buy before it was time again to board the bus. Our next stop was the Pueblos Blancos, where people of indigenous heritage live and practice unique handicrafts using preserved methods from years gone by—this particular one focused on pottery. Afterwards, we traveled to another small pueblo to look out over the Apoyo lagoon. Upon arrival, we found a religious procession for Semana Santa in progress through the street, so we were actually able to join with and experience that for a while before heading to the lookout point. It was so neat to see the near bank of the lagoon, followed by the water itself, then another stretch of land (with Granada peeking up from the forest), then a cloud-shrouded Lake Nicaragua finishing out the last of the visible landscape. Heading back to the Calle Casada for dinner with friends and some late-night swimming capped the day off nicely, but also gave lots of time to think about our experiences of all types from the day.

Some introductory sign-language
Lake Nicaragua

We began our day Saturday with a trip to the local market. Nearly any item you could be looking for is up for sale in the maze of shops and stands. Finding the medicinal plans my partner and I were charged with involved several backtracks, near-lost experiences, and asking often for directions from the vendors around us. It was an incredible and thought-provoking place to be, and I wish we had had time to explore it further and talk with more of the people there. As it was, we did have time before the next activity to go to the park and feed the cart-bearing horses we had toured with on the first night. That was the first time I’ve fed watermelon to a horse—and it was a very messy experience indeed! Pretty sure as much watermelon ended up scattered around the surrounding area as in the horse’s eager mouth. Our next activity was one of the most impactful of the weekend. We visited two joint businesses near our hotels: Café de las Sonrisas and Tio Antonio Hammacas. Both establishments are the manifestations of a dream of Spain-native Antonio to provide more employment options for those in Granada with varying forms of disability. He explained to us the history and process of creating this place that operates not on charity, but based on the requirements of hard work, quality products, and daily personal development of the employees. One of the biggest problems Antonio observed going hand-in-hand with lack of employment opportunities in Granada was the systematic de-humanization of people with disabilities through rejection from work and daily devaluing. Both locations are committed to changing this. We got to work alongside some of the artisans there as well and learn a small amount of the impressive creative prowess happening every day in this place. In addition, we each learned to sign our names in the Spanish sign language alphabet, received a silent nick-name, and shared a delicious lunch in the restaurant. It was very beautiful to visit this place striving toward lasting and personally empowering solutions to the very real social challenges present in Granada. After this, we had a little free time, which my group decided to spend visiting archaeological and chocolate museums and getting ice cream. Next, boarded our bus to travel to Lake Nicaragua—the largest body of fresh water in Central America. We filed into three boats and sped out over the water for a tour of the waterbody so large it feels like a sea. We stopped at an island populated solely by monkeys, visited a fort once used to defend against attacking pirates, had a celebration (one day early) for World Water Day, and enjoyed the tranquil beauty of sunset over the lake. When we arrived back in Granada, it was time for dinner, casual (and some adamant “I’m not buying…”) conversations with the street vendors, a little Bachata, chatting with friends, and calling it a night early enough to function the next day.

The beautiful San Juan Del Sur coastline
A towering figure of Christ; large to us, small to the mountain

Sunday marked our last day in the beautiful country I think I fell in love with in just three days. We drove back through the wind turbine-studded countryside to San Juan Del Sur—a beach town tucked neatly into an ocean cove. Some of us opted to begin the visit with a trip up the mountain to a lookout point over the coast…which also served as platform for a 26 meter statue of Jesus extending an arm of blessing over the shoreline. It was powerful to stand there beneath the towering figure and look out over the beauty of waves lapping against the perfectly curved shore line transitioning directly into the town. From there, we headed to the beach itself to see the statue from the shore line. The massive creation that had just minutes past towered over us looked contrastingly small compared to the beauty of the mountain it stands atop. The most impressive works of man still pale in comparison to the handiwork of God. As our time drew to a close, we climbed back aboard the bus, made it through another land border crossing (this weekend was a lot of new stamps in my passport), and made a dinner stop. We finally arrived back in Heredia around 11:30. As I walked in the door of the Quiros house, I was swept by the feeling of how good it was to be home. As marvelous as it is to travel and spend time adventuring to the new and exciting, there is much to be said for the lovely stability of a homebase to which to return.

As I mentioned in the opening, I realize this blog is a little later than the timescale I usually follow with my blog posts. Part of this is definitely due to me putting it off and resting instead, but the other part is closely tied to me taking time to process through the weekend and all the small moments that went into it. I know I haven’t included them all here, and I hope what I have written does adequate justice to the bittersweet experience that was Nicaragua. I definitely hope to return some day to this beautiful country and experience more of the loveliness and realness of life there. Hopefully the processing I have done (and still have to do) will leave an indelible mark on my memory and my heart and be something I remember for all the years to come. Thanks for reading this post and being part of the group that makes writing these each week so worth-while. Many more stories have yet to be told, and still more have yet to be written—and the prospect of sharing those is infinitely exciting. Though today marks only one month left in beautiful Costa Rica, here’s to more to come. Until next time, ¡ten cuidado y chao!

1 thought on “Week 10: Study Abroad Even More Abroad

  1. Gabe, another good read! I feel like I’ve been traveling with you throughout your journey. You’re an amazing writer and I feel blessed to have a friend that shares experiences with such zeal. What a privilege to read your work, I mean PLAY- LOL! Keep it coming – Lovin it!

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